St. John’s Indian School, Arizona

Sounds exotic. Intriguing. I had questions when I saw that sign. Was it a school? A road? What?
I saw the sign taking a drive with our rented car, as I wanted to get used to it. And nothing like a bit of a drive on the long and straight roads in Arizona.
I took off from Sunlakes where my mother in law lives, to Maricopa County, towards the mountains. I can never go wrong driving towards mountains,
they are never far off around Phoenix.
I corss Maricopa, leaving the signs to the 347 alone, the South direction would take me to Tucson, on the back roads. An interesting drive, but I have no time for that one today.
Just a little browse in the Phoenix area is in order.
I was on this road last year, and I make a stop at the grave of Albert Burnell, who died on Riggs road. Nothing much has changed in a year. The little birds in stone
are still on the cross, a tea cup and saucer stand ready should his soul need a kicker, the new thing added is a little tiger doll.
I like the habit of putting small objects next to graves. It makes it more personal, easier to feel the presence of a human being who left people behind in this life.
Totally different then the cemetaries in Europe and other places we have seen, where trinkets on graves are strictly forbidden. Only flowers are allowed.
As I said in my opening line, I turned off the big road, to explore St.Johns Indian School, and found a school indeed. With the known yellow bus nicely parked. No kiddies on it, the classes were going on. I heard vague children’s voices. They could freely go up in the air, on this warm winters day in Sunny Arizona. It’s special, it felt like a warm summer day in England, a sunday, when nothing or nobody is moving, yet you know there are people around, you just don’t see them. It all feels warm and silent, all creatures big and small enjoying the sun and the peace.
Reality hits when I see the poster at the fence. Alcohol and drugs, the plague in most american schools. And grafitti. Makes me wonder who Thurman S4L is, or what it means.
This is also the first time that I see Bureau of Indian Affairs. Hec, I did not have an idea that the States have a Bureau of Indian Affairs. They sure don’t have one for white Affairs.
A big question mark, and I will have to read up on that one. I will come back to it on a later date. One thing to add: Russel Means.
A bit of walking around. Not much houses, a small cluster of properties, spread out wide, all housing here are on at least 1 acre lots, people have space. It makes sense, we are on the Indian Reservation, space is essential. A funny looking mailbox, with someone wanting a special font, very hard to read though. I suppose the mail man by now knows who’s box it is. It’s where I find a piece of land with horses.
Since I am now an experienced horse rider, I have to stop of and have a chat with the animals. Lovely beasts, with rich brown fur, dark eyes that look at me in a friendly way.
It’s one of the nice things when I am out on my own, driving and hunting for photographs. I can stop at any horse or cow I like, without Mr Wonderful having to wait for me. I can horse chat for half an hour if I want. Only one is interested in my stories, the darkie with the white spot on the nose. I am sure there is a name for that feature, but my english does not reach far enough to know that one. In dutch we call it a Bles.
Still on the same property, a water tank, and someone clearly tackled it with spray cans and paint. I kind of like it. It breaks the otherwise brown scape, adds a little accent of color and happiness. I can only hope that the owners are happy about it too. I could see that this might be a wild guess.
And again in the distance, the mountains veiled in a blue haze. I love the American South West. With a passion. Never can get enough of it. It’s one of those things that I did not know before Mr Wonderful brought me here to meet his family. Sure, I had read about it, followed the first settlers, read Karl May’s stories about Winnetou and Old Shatterhand. I had never anticipated though that I would ever be a seasoned traveller to this part of the world.
I feel free in this surrounding. Small too, in the sight of the big land, only partially tamed by humans. The mountains still need respect, they are more powerful then we people are.
We can damage them or break up nature, but the revenge will come. Nothing of revenge on my wintery summer drive though. I am starting to notice that I have no water in the car, and no money on me to buy some. A stupid thing in Arizona. It will only happen once. And I am never to far from Sunlakes, I can always go home to get a drink.
Another thing I like is that often people have animals on site, representing the big symbols of the west. The coyote is one of them. A rusty sign brings me in a more then good mood.
Together with a couple of herded together mailboxes.
I could spend a whole day on this property, snapping all the different angles and little bits. But I want to see a bit more of the village with the romantic name:
St.John’s Indian School. West of South 51st Avenue. I must say that I am a bit confused between St.John’s Indian School and the name Komatke.
Komatke is a Pima word for blue hazy mountain, and boy, do I recognize the connection. I have been driving just along the blue hazies today. They are in fact The Estrella Mountains.
I do find out where the name comes from. The St.John’s Catholic mission was a Franciscan project, started in 1901. The mission had a chapel and a school. A boarding school to be more precise. I am bit by bit learning some very depressing facts about indians and boarding schools, but will elaborate on this later. I need to do more homework. Lets say that the boarding schools mostly run by catholic priests and nuns were horrible places, where abuse in all formats was daily grub. Count on priests to screw up big time…
Anyway, I did find a photographing priest, Augustine Swartz, and his collection can be seen online here.
Father Augustine found a well-established mission with close to 500 students in the boarding school when he arrived at St. John’s. Two adobe buildings shown in his 1916 photograph with South Mountain as a backdrop, stand in 2002: the present St. John’s Church (1903 and second from the right); and an earlier chapel in the center, which was built in 1900.
What I visit today is the church, well looked after, painted in bright white. I am lucky, a volunteer is vacuuming in the church, and he takes me on a swift tour around the church and on the grounds. The church is still the place for mass every sunday, with a vivid community attending.
He tells me about an indian girl that will be declared saint shortly, he told me her name, but I forgot. I wonder if she would be the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, also known as the Lily of the Mohawks.
A small cemetary is also on the site, and I feel a little hesitant to snap a lot. It feels unappropriate… Don’t know why, as I usually love looking at graves and thinking about the people they represent.
A faded Virgin of Guadeloupe strikes me as uneartly beautiful, even in her distressed state. I wonder what she looked like when the tiles were new…
It is getting late, and I desperately need a drink, so I head back on South 51th Avenue, back to Riggs Road, and the house of mother in law.
But not before stopping to snap a couple of Arizona cows…
They are calmly standing there, with Phoenix’s South Mountain in the background. This is good, I need to know that after we will move stateward, I will still see animals.
And be able to chat with them… Doesn’t matter if it is cow talk or horse talk…
Off to do some real scrapbooking now… Can’t be glued to the computer the whole day, jumping from page to page on a quest for truth…

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...Share

8 thoughts on “St. John’s Indian School, Arizona

  1. I truly think this is a wonderful thing,that this has,been doing for many many years I pray that it shall be able to keep on doing this wonderful work for many many many years. to come

  2. Its been a long time since I been on Gila River indian reservation good to see those mountians I used to live behind
    south mountian in circle projecst.. I live to see more photos of that area
    stan k.

  3. Cat – You were very close with the word “bles.” In English, that marking is called a “blaze.” The horse’s coloring appears to be liver chestnut – hard to tell with his winter coat, but I’m going on the color of his face. Chestnut being the group of red coats, with liver being the darkest color in that group, and actually the color of liver. (Yuck. Love the color, but Yuck!) Come hang out with me for a week – I’ll have you talking fluent horse!
    BTW – You were riding a Paint. LOL.

  4. Hi Cath……. that was most interesting… but it also made me happy that I now live in Wisconsin.
    Sending you lots of love and best wishes……. Sonja

  5. Gosh, I just love some of these – you really have captured the southwest. My favorites are the “layer cakes” sky, then mountains, then the human habitation layer, then the desert – they look so timeless so much the sense of the desert.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>